Women in Business: Physician assistant at Sanford Clinic loves her patients

A person's health is one of the most important things to them, and whom they trust to care for them can be a big deal. That provider knows some of the most personal information about the person.

Jenny Lessman
Jenny Lessman said her work as a physician's assistant has provided her with so many relationships with her patients.

A person's health is one of the most important things to them, and whom they trust to care for them can be a big deal. That provider knows some of the most personal information about the person.

That trust can make for some close relationships, and it can be difficult for the providers to draw the line and find balance between work and family life. Jenny Lessman can attest to that.

"It's extremely tough. That is probably the biggest issue with this job," she said. "It's hard to draw the line between them and my family."

Lessman, who works as a physician assistant at Sanford Health, has a hectic schedule that takes her all over the county. Working as part of Dr. Jaimie Deraney's obstetrics/gynecology team, Lessman does outreach in Mahnomen on Tuesdays.

"We all do outreach to different locations," she said.


She sees patients, many times pregnant women in their first seven months, so they don't have to drive to Detroit Lakes to see the doctor as often.

On Wednesday mornings, she assists Deraney in surgery, which can be anything from hysterectomies to c-sections.

"One of my favorite days is helping in surgery," she said.

On Wednesday afternoons and Thursdays, she sees patients in the Detroit Lakes clinic. She sees pregnant women, those going through menopause, some with infections, pelvis pain, or other problems.

She said it's hard not to be at work more often because of the relationships she's built with her patients. In fact, her calendar is booked out about four months in advance with patient appointments.

On two Fridays a month, she does outreach in Park Rapids, and one Friday a month she is at the Family Planning clinic in Detroit Lakes.

She has Mondays off.

"I always wanted to help people and wanted to be able to find a job that I could get in and out of school and afford the ability to be a mom someday," she said of going into the career field she chose.


Instead of going to school to be a doctor, Lessman said she chose physician's assistant because less schooling is required and there's more versatility in the field.

For her job, it's more about learning on the job. She could work in OB/GYN this year and change to podiatry next year if she wanted, without having to go back to college. A doctor, on the other hand, would have to return to medical school to change specialties, she said.

"I'm not so limited in one field. This is a better fit for me," she said.

She has no intention of changing specialties at this point, however.

"I can relate to so many issues we're discussing in the clinic, or will as a woman."

Some of the favorite aspects of her job, Lessman said, are when she gets to educate young girls about their healthcare options, and when she gets to show new parents their unborn baby via ultrasound for the first time.

She finds fulfillment in helping patients get better, and then to hear the thanks. "That's bigger to me than any paycheck I'll receive."

And it's those patients, those cures, those thanks that make it difficult for Lessman to balance her work life and her personal life.


"It's hard for me to draw that line. I really and truly care about them, they're not just a patient of mine. But," she counters, "the day I stop caring is the day I should quit my job."

Originally from Nebraska, Lessman attended the University of Nebraska in Lincoln for biology, and got her master's degree to be a physician's assistant at the University of Nebraska in Omaha. It was in college that she met her husband, Josh, who was from Albert Lea.

How they ended up in Detroit Lakes, she said, was "on a complete whim."

After college she was planning on taking a job in her hometown in Nebraska, but at the last minute, she decided it wasn't the right fit for her and turned the job down. A friend of hers, who had just taken a job in Brainerd, showed her the places she had looked for jobs, and Lessman looked in Bemidji and Wahpeton before being asked to come to Detroit Lakes.

"The rest is history."

Though the winters are a tad harsher than what she was used to in Nebraska, she and her husband like their home. Maybe not at first because of homesickness, but that's changed over the six years they've been here.

"I didn't even know Detroit Lakes on the map. I didn't even know it existed," she said with a laugh. "Now, this is home."

The young couple doesn't have any kids -- yet -- but they have two dogs.


Another cause near and dear to her heart is raising money and awareness for breast and ovarian cancer treatment. Lessman and her friend Jessica Peterson organized the first Breast and Ovarian Cancer Race in Detroit Lakes this spring, which will be held on Mother's Day each year, after their mother's were diagnosed and survived ovarian and breast cancer, respectively.

"It was an overwhelming success," she said of the first race.

They raised $5,000, and Lessman said the ultimate goal is to raise enough money to create a non-profit that will pay for cancer screenings that insurance doesn't cover.

Lessman said she has gotten testing done to show that she carries the cancer gene, but many woman can't afford to get the testing done if it isn't covered by insurance.

"Between personal and family history, and with my dealing with day-to-day practice (cancer screening) is important," she said.

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